I'm applying for graduate school in the coming fall. I asked a professor - who I never worked with, but who liked my CV - if he could get me in touch with one of his colleagues to see if I can get a research position at his lab. The professor did so, and his colleague was interested in my CV enough to tell my professor to ask me to get in touch with him.

I didn't want to email this professor until I was done researching his stuff and sending my application. It's been a couple of weeks. I don't know if I spent too much time not sending the email, but I didn't want to make a poor job of that. But the question is, now that I'm writing the email, should I mention the professor who recommended me in the subject line?

My current subject line is:
"Cady Heron - Prospective [major] Graduate Student"

The one I was thinking:
"Referred by Dr. Karen Smith - Cady Heron"
(Frankly, I got this from a Business Insider article.)

Any help, please? I just don't want to sound like I'm shoving nepotism or something in his face.

  • Put your name first. Don't hide behind this prof you barely know. "Cady Heron - Prospective Grad Student Referred by Karen Smith" should work just fine. Though, be sure that Dr. Smith actually referred you, and didn't simply pass along your information. Dec 9, 2015 at 4:45
  • In regard to the time delay: I wouldn't have waited that long, but I can guarantee the professor you're applying to work with will never notice (b/c he/she isn't actually spending any of their busy time thinking about you [yet]). Also a good mantra to always keep in mind about pursuing a question/request/etc.: "The worst they can say is no." Dec 9, 2015 at 4:48

1 Answer 1


It's a good idea to remind the prospective advisor of who you are (namely "prospective student that colleague X recommended"), but doing so in the subject line might be overdoing it. I'd suggest writing that reminder in the first line of your email, since most people seem to read emails using applications that will display the first line, even if they don't open the email. Also consider cc'ing your referring professor on the email.

  • OK, thanks a lot for that! I was scared of accidently emphasizing that "Hey! I know a guy!" instead of saying that I can be of use to his research team. But do I have to elaborate on what I like about his research and stuff? I'm just writing in reply to HIS reply to get in touch with him, so I don't have to expand on why I think he's awesome, right? Like, just wait for what he wants to ask me (he even suggested to my professor that i could Skype him).
    – Kaya311
    Dec 8, 2015 at 19:48
  • (My two cents) Being of use to the team is the major thing. Give him reasons to think that you will be motivated and creative and productive in his lab. Demonstrating that you are inspired by, interested in, and knowledgable of his work is important towards that goal, but you don't need to resort to outright flattery. Perhaps unfortunately, "Hey! I know a guy!" is also part of the package, because it greatly reduces the chances that you are good on paper but useless on the job. Dec 8, 2015 at 21:04
  • 1
    Solid answer from Patrick. @Kaya311 - you need to write a short email (maximum 3 paragraphs). You need to explain who the heck you are -- that requires mention of your mutual connection -- and why you're writing. Also you need to make a human connection with the person. If you can mention that you read such-and-so paper of his or her with particular interest, and then say a little about why that was interesting for you -- that would do the trick. Dec 9, 2015 at 5:36
  • +1 for CC'ing. Whenever I did that, the initial response has always been to both me and the referring professor, including at least a line or two directed at my professor. I also know that personally, I'm far more likely to pay full attention to the e-mail if a friend/colleague has referred the student to me (hence I'll also respond to the referring person, if for no other reason than an excuse to say hi depending on long it's been). Jun 17, 2016 at 8:25

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